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Viva Colombia: Huertas, Montoya, Munoz contribute to nation’s great sports day (VIDEO)

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Verizon IndyCar Series rookie and Bogota, Colombia native Carlos Munoz is proud of where he’s from. That said, he doesn’t mind being away from home for the time being.

“I think right now we’re really lucky to be here in America, not in Colombia,” he said after finishing third behind fellow Colombians Carlos Huertas and Juan Pablo Montoya in today’s Race 1 of the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston. “I think right now Colombia, [it would] be really crazy to go out in the streets and celebrate.”

The Andretti Autosport youngster probably has a point. In addition to the occurrence of the first all-Colombian podium in Indy-car history, the Colombian national soccer team advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals today with a 2-0 win over Uruguay.

Party time in Bogota.

“Obviously the football – as you guys say it, soccer – is huge in Colombia, and I was there last week for every game,” said Huertas, who earned his inaugural Verizon IndyCar Series win today. “And every time the game starts, like the whole country stops. People don’t even work.

“My win is just a little bit [of the celebration]. I hope they’re happy, and the people that watched it back home, my girlfriend, my friends, my family, my mom was sitting there watching it, I hope they’re very happy, because it means a lot to me.”

The all-Colombian podium can also be interpreted as a sign of just how much influence Montoya has had over the years.

In post-race, Montoya recalled looking up to Colombian F1 and IndyCar racer Roberto Guerrero when he was young. And in turn, Huertas and Munoz looked up to Montoya as he left his own mark around the world in CART, F1, and NASCAR.

“When I went up, karting and racing in Colombia was there and a couple people tried it,” said Montoya. “But nobody ever thought you could make a career out of this.”

Munoz was lucky enough to have some contact with Montoya when he was in karting.

“He’s always been an example for me and also for a lot of drivers growing up…It was nice to have when I was small as an example, and right now competing against him at the track, he’s very good,” he said.

Huertas also noted his appreciation for what Montoya’s done. But he stressed that on the track, it’s all business – and no deference to childhood heroes.

“I have huge respect for him, and to beat him shows that I’ve done a good job,” he said. “But my objective is to beat all the drivers, and I treat them all the same. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be the same feeling.”

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.